In 1993, South Korea became a fully-fledged democracy with its first democratically elected president. Seoul is the capital city and is home to almost ten million people. Seoul is located just south of the Cease-Fire Line, also known as the DMZ, which is referred to in general terms as the thirty-eighth parallel, even though it does not follow it exactly. The United States has many military installations in this area.
South Korea manufactures automobiles, electronic goods, and textiles that are sold around the world. South Korea is a democracy that has used state capitalism to develop its economy. After the World War II era, South Korea was ruled by a military government that implemented land reform and received external economic aid. Large agricultural estates were broken up and redistributed to the people. Agricultural production increased to meet the demands of the population. South Korea has much more agricultural production than North Korea even though South Korea’s terrain is mostly mountainous, most of which is not arable.
South Korea has high mountain ranges, coastal plains, river basins, and rolling hills. About three thousand islands, mostly small and uninhabited, lie off the western and southern coasts. Jeju-do is the country’s largest island and the home to an extinct volcano.
South Korea tends to have a humid climate with a short rainy season called jangma, which begins in June through the end of July. Winters can be extremely cold in the inland region of the country. Summer can be uncomfortably hot and humid.
South Korea is considered one of the most ethnically homogeneous societies in the world with ethnic Koreans representing approximately 96% of the total population. South Korea’s birthrate is one of the world’s lowest.
The fifty-one million people who live in South Korea have a much higher standard of living than the residents of North Korea. Personal income in the north is barely equivalent to a few dollars per day, while personal income in the south is similar to that of Western countries. The economic growth of the south was a result of state-controlled capitalism, rather than free-enterprise capitalism. The state has controlled or owned most of the industrial operations and sold its products in the global marketplace. Giant corporations, which forced industrialization along the coastal region, have promoted South Korea as the world’s leading shipbuilding nation. South Korean corporations include Daewoo, Samsung, Kia Motors, Hyundai, and LG. As an economic tiger, South Korea continues to reform its economic system to adapt to global economic conditions.
Buddhism was introduced into the Korean Peninsula, as were many other aspects of Chinese culture that had significant effects on the Korean heritage. Buddhism has been a prominent religion in Korea for centuries. The teachings of Confucius are also widely regarded. About 30 percent of the population claims Christianity as their religious background; about 20 percent of the population are Protestant and 10 percent are Catholic. This is the highest Christian percentage of any Asian country. Up to half of the population makes no claims or professions of faith in any organized religion. Before 1948, Pyongyang was a notable Christian center. At that time, approximately three hundred thousand people identified as Christian. After the establishment of a Communist government in North Korea, many of the Christians fled to South Korea to avoid persecution.
Korean cuisine is largely based on rice, noodles, tofu, vegetables, fish, and meats. Traditional Korean meals are noted for the number of side dishes, banchan, which accompany steam-cooked short-grain rice.
Every meal is accompanied by numerous banchan. Kimchi, a fermented, usually spicy vegetable dish is commonly served at every meal and is one of the best known Korean dishes. Korean food also uses a lot of sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and hot pepper paste. Korea is unique among East Asian countries in its use of metal chopsticks. Dog meat is less popular today than in the past, especially among the younger generations, but according to one survey, it is the 4th most commonly consumed meat in South Korea.
South Korea is also famous for K-Pop, a genre of popular music. K-pop is increasingly making appearances on Western charts. Here’s an example, but you can find lots more on YouTube:
Another interesting aspect of South Korean cultures is an emphasis on beauty, skincare products, and achieving a perfect look. South Korea has often been described as the plastic surgery capital of the world, and an estimated 1 in 3 women in South Korea have had plastic surgery (31% of women). There has been a recent, small backlash to this feature of South Korean culture:
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Additional information and image credits:
S. Korea map By OCHA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32296114
Jeju Island By Douglas Knisely from USA – Waterfall on Jeju Island, Korea, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2891428
Korean cuisine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_cuisine
banchan By by LWY at flickr – https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwy/2193418329/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3403056
Bibimbap By abex (a flickr user) – https://www.flickr.com/photos/abex/337816110/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1667745
Kimchee By Marcbarrington – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48540936
Gangnam By Joop – originally posted to Flickr as Gangam / 강남구, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9110267
South Korea Yeongdeok county By Robert at w:Picasa – 2006-11-01-Andong, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7372353